The Royal Veterinary College: Driving knowledge exchange through industry partnerships
It is our pleasure to welcome and introduce The Royal Veterinary College, University of London as one of our newest organisational members and alumni of the UIIN Strategic Partnerships Accelerator Program. While we have been acquainted with several colleagues as UIIN individual members since 2018, we are thrilled to extend our relationship with the full College joining the UIIN community this year. We had the pleasure of catching up with our program alumni Ray Kent, Director of Research Administration and Emma Tomlinson, Head of Research Development at the Research Support Office to learn more about the team’s program experience and new ambitions in enhancing external engagement and knowledge exchange.
As the largest and longest-established vet school in the English-Speaking world, The Royal Veterinary College (RVC) has made its name as a leading specialist veterinary and biological science research institution, bringing together talented individuals with a passion for human and animal health, and animal welfare. In recent years, the RVC has put great emphasis on accelerating its external engagement activities, facilitated by success in attracting substantial levels of funding for knowledge exchange. This enabled not only the training of staff, but also the recruitment of industry mentors as part of two large programmes (The Bloomsbury SET and MedTech Super-Connector), designed to help academics take their technologies forward to early-stage commercialisation.
Whereas The Bloomsbury SET is developing new solutions to combat infectious disease and antimicrobial resistance, the MedTech Super-Connector facilitates the translation of research discoveries for early-stage development of innovative medical technologies. With both projects focusing on large and pertinent challenges, industry collaborations proved pivotal for the success of the projects. Not only did industry mentorship enable a natural expansion of the team by bringing in more and varied expertise, but it also established good connections with companies to help bring the technologies closer to the market.
allowed us to make very good connections with companies and take forward some of these projects to a higher level of technology readiness”
As Emma describes the varied knowledge exchange outputs from the College in recent years, “Successful impact cases range from working with wildlife groups in Africa about the control of a particular disease – which includes working with governments, policymakers and NGOs – to the ‘hard’ science topics like our pioneering stem cell work”. A stand-out case relates to the impact that RVC research has had on the treatment and understanding of diseases of cats and dogs, which have parallel conditions in humans. Following impressive clinical research into chronic kidney disease (CKD), findings have been used by industry to develop new laboratory tests for earlier diagnosis, new dietary formulations tailored to different stages of CKD and even new drugs for the management of CKD and associated disorders. “These products are now routinely used by vets all over the world as part of treatment plans for these animals.”
With this extent of societal impact, one is surprised to learn that the RVC’s Research Support Office consists of only three colleagues providing support for knowledge exchange, alongside a larger team leading on other elements of research support. Over the past few years, this small team has worked hard to create a structured approach to strategic partnerships and developing support structures to equip the academics with the tools and knowledge to commercialise their research. Naturally, the team has come across several challenges, including varying levels of awareness, understanding and culture around knowledge exchange. Without a large entrepreneurial community in the College, it remains complicated to sell commercialisation as an opportunity on which academics can build their career.
Throughout the pandemic, the team has therefore put in great effort in raising the awareness and culture around knowledge exchange, whether through the organisation of industry launch events, online research symposia or adding a knowledge exchange section to the website. This was one of the key drivers for their participation in the UIIN Strategic Partnerships Accelerator Program, which presented a great opportunity to gain deeper insight into the internal awareness of commercialisation activities and support structures whilst providing data to back up suggestions the team could then take up to leadership. “It helped us to clarify our thinking of what needed to be done as well as to raise the visibility of knowledge exchange activity within The Royal Veterinary College. This is something that we’ve been trying to do by various means for several years through bringing in funding and launching different programs”, explains Ray.
Over the last few years, we’ve raised the profile of knowledge exchange and strategic partnerships […] and demonstrated the value and the reputation of the RVC as a partner of choice, but also in terms of allowing greater opportunities for our academics to do collaborative work with industry”
With a new Vice-Principal for Research and Innovation in place, the team now awaits the next five-year strategy to define where to focus its efforts. The plan is to strengthen the team that supports knowledge exchange, research and business development, to better support strategic partners. Not only would this help consolidate the existing large partnership initiatives, but it would also provide more support for looking into longer-term opportunities that do not immediately pay back, such as the team’s current focus, which is to build strategic partnerships around cell and gene therapy work. “Something that we’ve been very successful at doing is trying to anticipate things in terms of where there might be a knowledge exchange opportunity and building the relationships in advance of the opportunity”, says Ray. “Trust takes a long time to develop. If you’re not making those connections now, you’re not going to get the relationship two years or even ten years down the line”
Speaking of building new relationships, the team cannot wait to meet in Amsterdam for the 2022 UIIN Conference this June. “It is very useful to hear lots of different stories about how other people do things, and UIIN being one of the big professional networking events for the people that work in our sector, I think we also see it as a way of spreading the word about RVC”, explains Ray.
Emma Tomlinson Ray Kent Joanna Bailley
Are you interested in learning more about the RVC or the Research Support Office’s activities?
Learn more about RVC’s research projects at www.rvc.ac.uk/research and get in contact with the team via email or contact Emma Tomlinson directly via email.
“We very much welcome the conversation. If you’d like to explore more, we’re here to help”
Image credits: Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile